Researchers have been scrambling to protect and conserve endangered species as climate change and deforestation leave their mark. However, before they can work to protect a species, they have to locate it first!

With some endangered species’ dwindling populations making them hard to find, scientists have come up with a unique and creative way to detect and locate them by vacuuming DNA from the air.

Two groups of researchers began testing the idea around the same time, one group led by Elizabeth Clare, a molecular ecologist at York University, and the other led by Kristine Bohmann, a researcher at the GLOBE Institute at the University of Copenhagen.

Both Clare and Bohmann referred to the idea as “crazy,” according to NPR, but were surprised to learn it actually worked!

Using air sampling devices, including a household vacuum, researchers were able to detect eDNA from the air in parks and at a zoo. Their samples accurately detected the DNA of several species of nearby animals, including a guppy that was living in a pond in the zoo.

Their findings were published in two different papers in the Journal of Cell Biology, and could be revolutionary in the field of conservation.

Using air samples to track eDNA could provide researchers with a noninvasive way to measure biodiversity around the world. Of course, more research will need to be done on the topic, but their research is a pivotal step in the right direction.

In an interview with NPR, Clare said, “I have this vision of samplers that are deployed globally that can suck up the DNA from all these different sources, from soil and honey and rain and snow and air and water, sequence them on-site, beam the data up to the servers.” The purpose would be to create a worldwide system of biomonitoring animals around the world. “We don’t have a coordinated system for that,” she added.

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